Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wikipedia on human factors

There is currently a discussion on about whether human factors and ergonomics should be merged into one topic. There is quite a difference of opinion. I think this is partly because the terms are used differently in different countries and settings.
The main question seems to be whether ergonomics is more focused on anthropometrics and human factors on cognitive and perceptual factors. Those who support the merge seem to suggest that both terms cover the whole subject. Those that oppose seem to suggest that there is a big overlap, but the different focus constitutes separate subjects.
To see the debate go to

For those of you who don't know, Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that is made up through informal collaboration. The idea being that anyone can add or edit, and over time the subjects will evolve to a consensus.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Safety photo

Another good web site for basic health and safety

Some useful risk assessment forms. Some of the jokes are good.

Health and safety for beginners

This looks like a great site for basic health and safety.

The downloads look particularly useful. The site is not-for-profit, which is very commendable. Well worth a look.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A classic case of human error

Article on BBC website about the nuclear accident at the Tokaimura processing plant in Japan.

Critical mass was achieved because the technicians put too much material in a container, and it happened to be more enriched than usual. An example of why you need to understand the types of errors that can occur and put appropriate measures in place.

Three categories of ergonomics

A useful overview of ergonomics appeared in an article reporting that Gavriel Salvendy from Purdue University has been internationally honored in the field of ergonomics by Ergonomia, an international journal.

It states:

"The field of ergonomics can be divided into three categories: physical, social and cognitive. The physical area deals with problems involving lifting, pushing and more specifically, with injuries associated with the workplace such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The social area concentrates on the design and composition of group dynamics and the interactions of people. The cognitive area focuses on designing computing systems that match human mental capabilities. These systems understand how humans perform certain tasks and emulates them through artificial intelligence."

Article source

Monday, May 15, 2006

Custom sign generator

Found this site. Can't quite think of a practical application at the moment, but could be a fun way of getting messages over. Allows you to add your own text to safety signs, monopoly cards, FBI badges etc.

US Accidents

I have been looking at the US Chemical safety and investigation board's website. Some useful information including video summaries of recent accident investigations, including BP Houston. Well worth a look at:

Friday, May 12, 2006

Failure to take up technology changes

Two examples in the office where new technology doesn't quite work as intended.

Network printers seem like a great idea to me. You get a fast, good quality printer that may have additional features like double-sided printing. But people are used to having a printer on their desk, and perceive this to be better than having a network printer. So they either keep hold of their printer or obtain one. This throws the cost-benefit that was made for the change to networked printers. The company either has to stock the ink cartridges for the personal printers in stores, or the employee obtains them via expenses. Also, the company either has to continue providing support for the personal printers, or individuals spend their own time fiddling around.

On a similar note, the move to networks that can be controlled, backed-up etc. Again people perceive it is still better to keep some documents on their own hard drive. This is especially the case after there has been a network outage. Of course the problem is that the hard drives are not backed up. Also, copies start t be held and keeping track of version changes becomes impossible.

In both cases, failure to change behaviour means the technology change does not achieve what it was supposed to.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Daft safety rules

Our house has had a loft conversion, so it occupies 3 floors. Apparently building regulations require it to have self closures on all doors on all floors.

Now I can see the idea and understand it in a house spilt into bed sits or similar. But in a family home it must be much more dangerous. Not only is there the risk of trapping fingers, no family can live with doors closed all the time. So all that happens is that doors get propped or wedged open. This makes it far more difficult to close a door if a fire does occur.

Communication errors

Two jokes that illustrate how the spoken word can cause problems.

First - you have to say this one out loud. There were twenty sick sheep. One dies. How many are left? People will say 25 because they think you said 26 sheep.

Second - a bit saucy. A man was having problems in the bedroom department. His GP had done various tests and given him tablets, but no good. He had seen a psychiatrist, but they were at a loss of what the problem was. So he went to see a witch doctor. He said he had a solution, but it would only work once per year. To get it up he had to say 1-2-3. To get it down 1-2-3-4. That evening the man jumped into bed with his wife and said 1-2-3. His ask wife asks 'what's the 1-2-3-for?'

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Checklist for change

Final piece from 'change management in a week.' see previous posts.

Initial concept
  • what change is required?
  • what are we trying to achieve?
  • what will be the benefits?
  • what will be the costs?
  • how long do we have to make the changes?
  • what is the likelihood of success?
  • what are the alternatives?
  • what happens if we do nothing?

Watch out for

  • do not get tunnel vision - focus on outcomes and weigh carefully the possible alternatives for achieving them
  • do not underestimate obstacles.



  • What will be on the project team?
  • who will be the change manager?
  • what need to be done when?
  • what are the likely obstacles at each stage?
  • how will be create dissatisfaction with the current?
  • how will we create a vision of the future?
  • what will be the milestones to show progress?

Watch out for

  • disguised resistance (people saying yes when they mean no, actions not matching words)
  • don't underestimate the task
  • do not underallocate resources
  • watch the detail
  • ensure a sense of urgency is created.



  • what are the indicators that change is happening?
  • are new ways of working/structure being adhered to?
  • are the barriers being overcome?
  • have significant dissenters been removed or neutralised?
  • are people receiving sufficient support, coaching, training?
  • do recognition and reward systems match what is being required by the change?

Watch out for

  • verify changes are being made
  • create and celebrate quick wins
  • ensure managers communicate a consistent message (discuss differences of opinion in private)



  • Is the recognition and reward system continuing to support the change?
  • have news ways of working become part of the routine?
  • has the change delivered the expected benefits?
  • what needs to be changes next?

Watch out for

  • check that people are not sliding back into old ways of working
  • do not celebrate victory too early
  • ensure that benefits are being delivered and communicated

Why change is resisted

More from "change management in a week."

There is lack of communication so that people do no
  • understand what the change is
  • understand what the change means
  • understand why the change is necessary
  • understand the urgency
  • understand how it fits into the bigger picture

lack of will to change so that people do not

  • want to change, they are comfortable with how things are
  • believe change will deliver the results

Lack of acceptance of the change process because people

  • do not like the way the change is being handled
  • are not involved in the decision
  • are not consulted
  • do not like being told what to do
  • thing they are being treated unfairly
  • thing others are being treated unfairly

Lack of incentive because

  • people do not see any personal advantage from the change
  • people do not see improvements in their working terms or conditions

Perception that the new way will be worse because

  • the job will become less interesting
  • will have less autonomy or flexibility
  • reduce social interaction
  • break up existing team

Threats of change

  • reducing power
  • undermining position and status
  • undermine personal development
  • damage routes for promotion

Perception of change

More from 'change management in a week.' See previous post.

You can see why change that affects people has problems. Someone initiating a change may feel ' the change is only small, no one will lose their jobs and the new organisation will be much more efficient.' The people affected are more likely to think 'the change looks large, any efficiency gain must result in job loses, the work will be different and I am not sure I will like so much and I may not be working with my friends. Where will I be in the pecking order after the change?'

Those being affected are likely to have many unanswered questions. They go through the roller-coaster of denial (it is unnecessary and won't happen), blaming others for making it necessary, blaming themselves for not seeing it coming and getting out sooner, despair as there is nothing they can go, realising it won't go away, giving it a go (trial and error), gaining confidence and finally getting results. Management need to be aware and:

  • be prepared and not surprised by the reaction;
  • plan for a downturn in performance during transition;
  • providing information and support;
  • expecting anger and apparently irrational responses;
  • conceding on points that do not fundamentally affect the change (giving way);
  • helping people experiment with the new ways;
  • Setting targets and goals as the situation becomes clear so that people can understand what success looks like.

Good example of different perceptions. Scientist would describe water as a clear, odourless drinkable liquid. People lving next to a polluted river would see it differently.

Change management

I have been reading "Change management in a week" by Mike Bourne and Pippa Bourne under the Chartered Management Institute. I found it quite a good, brief guide to the issues of change management. The "in a week" format is pretty pointless, but never mind.

The book points out that you can take a 'hard' systems view of change by asking:
  • What is the problem?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • Which alternative gives the best solution?
But that this does not overcome the 'soft' aspects of change, which are the reasons why most changes fail.

Some changes are 'harder category whilst others are softer. For hard changes timescales are clearly defined and relatively short, resources and objectives are clearlyn identified, everyone perceives the change in the same way, a relatively small group of easily identifiable people are affected, and the management of the change can be restricted to a small defined group. However, for soft changes it is difficult to define timescales, resource needs and objectives; people have different perceptions about the change and many may be affected and so control is distributed more widely. For hard changes and problems originate internally whilst soft changes it is externally.

Gleicher of Arthur D Little proposed the following formula

K x D x V > C
K = knowledge of what needs to be done
D = dissatisfaction with status quo
V = desirability of vision of the future
C = cost in both material and psychological